"Trio" ""Ghost in the Machine" "Within the Golden Hour"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
April 5, 2017
San Francisco, CA
by Rita Felciano
copyright @ Rita Felciano 2017
This season SFB called its penultimate program Made for San Francisco Ballet, which referred to Christopher Wheeldon's "Within the Golden Hour" for the New Works Festival of 2008, Helgi Tomasson's 2011 "Trio'' and the world premiere of "Ghost in the Machine" by company member Myles Thatcher. This beautifully performed triptych left me with a buoyant perspective on 21st century ballet, or at least as Tomasson, part of the time, sees it. It was an evening of glorious dancing in which you felt every performer knew what he or she was aiming at individually and within the context of a work. Was every piece perfect? Of course not. But each showed skill, talent, musical sensitivity, intention and an understanding what excellently trained artists need and can do. You can't really ask for much more.
San Francisco Ballet in Myles Thatcher's "Ghost in the Machine" Photo © Erik Tomasson
Wikipedia tells us that "ghost in the machine" refers to Descartes' idea of the dualism between the body and the mind. I suppose every dancer/choreographer is keenly aware of this challenge which for others might be an unbridgeable chasm. In "Ghost", his second work for San Francisco Ballet, Thatcher, appears to have looked at oppositional pulls between the private and the communal. Set on five couples, chosen from among Principals and Corps, the half-hour piece convinced with the ease and grace with which the dancers moved through the choreography's shifting emphasis on individual and group expressions. Thatcher already has a finely developed of space as a sculptural medium which gives "Ghost" a visual solidity which seems at odds, but is not, with the work's sense of ambiguity. The disjointed selections from Michael Nyman scores, however, sounded piece meal.
Vanessa Zahorian and Joseph Walsh's contentious give and take involved a lot of pushing, dragging and throwing, close up and across space. Zahorian danced with a sense freedom and glee rarely seen in this dancer. She clearly had the time of her life in what was her last premiere at SFB. Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno exuded a playful warmth and tenderness which, however, did not prevent them from melting back into the group. The other couples were the fine Sasha De Sola/Stephen Morse, Isabella DeVivo/Esteban Hernandez and Emma Rubinowitz/Max Cauthorn.
The program opened with Tomasson's "Trio" to an orchestrated version of Tchaikovsky sextet "Souvenir De Florence." Mark Zappone's delicately tinted flowing gowns, and Alexander V. Nichols' suggestion of Renaissance art were well chosen. "Trio" is a piece in which everything seems to work together even though the music does not seem the most natural for ballet. The second movement, an intricately structured duet that becomes a trio, has its own staying power. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets danced it one more time. The languor and tenderness with which she yields to him whether leaning against him, flying high or sliding down his back took my breath away. Aaron Robison, as a Death figure, measured his long steps carefully. He was in no hurry; he knew he would win. So what could have become a contentious triangle, was a trio that gave Van Patten to move towards the inevitable. As she goes forth between the two figures, she belongs to both of them. When she finally yields to Robison, Helimets sends her off with the loveliest of open hand gestures.
De Sola and Vitor Luiz -- she splendid in her turns, he shining in his leaps -- enhanced by a corps of ten gave the opening movement a musically grounded effervescence. Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco brought out some the robustness of the music's souvenirs of Russia. However, I am not sure that these two dancers are meant to partner each other. They showed more tension than matching temperaments.
Wheeldon's "Within the Golden Hour," his first SFB commission, almost made Ezio Bosso's enervatingly vapid music tolerable. Even the Vivaldi excerpt for the adagio fit right in. Set on seven couples, three of them Principals, "Within" showed Wheeldon's predilection and real talent for partnering. There is no place where the lifts, slides, crawls and floating limbs couldn't go. He can even make ensemble dancing a two-on-two affair by stacking group duets against each other. "Within" is a piece I have come to love -- despite myself.